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June 26, 2003

Baby Daddy?

From The Economist....

Government plans on paternity testing

IT IS a wise child that knows his own father. Genotyping means a wise father can know his own child. Testing a cheek swab from a baby can easily clear the matter up. This is a booming business in Britain, where around 10,000 such tests are thought to be carried out privately each year.

There is plenty of scope for suspicion. Robin Baker, an academic-turned-author, reviewed the available data a few years ago and estimated that as many as 10% of children may not have been sired by their supposed fathers. If the figure really is that high, a lot of hitherto stable relationships are likely to end acrimoniously, and the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill for yet more children.

That's why there was talk, in the run-up to the publication of the genetics white paper, of forbidding suspicious men from doing this without the mother's consent. In the event, the government decided against it, and opted merely to propose banning taking unauthorised DNA samples.

This prohibition (which would not extend to the police) would avoid cases such as the one in America in which investigators employed by Kirk Kerkorian, a Hollywood mogul, got hold of the DNA of Steve Bing, a socialite, to try to establish whether Mr Bing was the father of Mr Kerkorian's wife's child. And it would also discourage the plotters who tried to get hold of Prince Harry's DNA to test it and sell the results to the papers. But it would do nothing for the wife who has had a bit on the side. She needs to mind her contraceptives.

Posted by razib at 02:40 PM

The statistic I am familiar with is that 6-10% of all fathers ain't they baby' daddy.

From the (now unfortunately defunct. Sorry Colby!) Alberta Report:

Several studies in the early 1990s that used blood samples to determine paternity found that at least 10% of babies born to stable couples were illegitimate. A researcher who surveyed one British town in the 1970s found that 30% of babies born to married women were conceived adulterously.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at June 26, 2003 02:45 PM

I get the feeling that there hasn''t been serious study of this question yet. From the BBC:

Estimates suggest that 5% of the population may have a different father to the one they think they are related to, says Professor John Burn, of the Institute of Human Genetics in Newcastle.

I would love to see the demographics of this question too, by ethnicity, region, country, income bracket, etc.

BTW, when did BBC start making its news stories look like a blog?!

Posted by: Jason Malloy at June 26, 2003 03:14 PM


I can't say for sure, b/c the reports are vague and I don't have any primary references but I'm under the impression that people who go in for paternity testing are mostly suspicious husbands and that the results often confirm their doubts - the tests indicate that the child is not biologically related about 30% of the time. PaternityFraud-dot-com has PDFs (scroll down) of National Paternity testing results from 1999 and 2001 that show similar results. But the results that keep showing around 5-10% seem to be prompted by something other than suspicious husbands. I don't know what, so I'll note your skepticism.

In other news, I found a small morsel to whet my demographic curiosity:

See also: Robin Baker 1996 "Sperm Wars: The science of sex" Basic Books, NY / Fourth Estate, London: "On average, about 10 percent of children are not sired by their supposed fathers. Some men, however, have a higher chance of being deceived in this way than others -- and it is those of low wealth and status who fare worst. Actual figures range from 1 percent in high-status areas of the United States and Switzerland, to 5 to 6 percent for moderate-status males in the United States and Great Britain, to 10 to 30 percent for lower-status males in the United States, Great Britain and France. Moreover, the men most likely to sexually hoodwink the lower-status males are men of higher status." (pp. 124--5)

Posted by: Jason Malloy at June 26, 2003 06:39 PM